After reflecting on several devastating months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Discover Halifax's CEO says the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) has lost a large chunk of tourists who usually spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the city.
Ross Jefferson, president and CEO of Discover Halifax, says he’s still calculating final numbers but it’s likely the HRM saw an 80 to 85 per cent drop in visitation. That equates to a loss of $750 to $850 million from HRM tourists.
“Here in HRM, tourism really is throughout all of our regions of HRM — it’s not exclusive to downtown,” he told NEWS 95.7’s The Rick Howe Show. “Just through the regular course of a normal year, we will welcome 5.3 million overnight stays in the run of a year. And those people will spend $1.3 billion in HRM alone.”
He said in the run of a normal year, one in 27 of the people in the HRM are overnight visitors.
“That has virtually disappeared,” he said. “We did have some success last year with the opening of the (Atlantic) bubble and regional travel, but as a whole, it (the tourism industry) supports about 4,000 businesses and about 34,000 jobs here in HRM alone.”
It’ll be a while before Nova Scotia's tourism industry recovers.
On Feb. 4, the federal government announced cruise ships would be banned from Canadian waters until February 2022. That amounts to a loss of around $166 million in the local economy.
Moreover, travel restrictions — including mandatory 14-day quarantines for anyone entering Nova Scotia and national restrictions on flights from the Caribbean and Mexico — will likely further hinder tourism and the local hospitality industries.
HRM businesses suffer
It’s no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has hugely affected many businesses in the HRM.
New businesses that had just begun breaking even, such as downtown Halifax’s cafe and bakery Little Eden, have been struggling with a lack of customers, profit and government assistance.
Even decades-old businesses with loyal customer-bases, such as the 22-year-old Phil’s Seafood on Quinpool Road, have been forced to shutter their doors.
Dear Fish Lovers, We have some sad news to share. After 22 years of serving our fish & chips to the city of Halifax,...Posted by Phil's Seafood on Friday, February 5, 2021
While Nova Scotia lifts some of its restrictions, such as allowing retail businesses to operate at 75 per cent capacity and some businesses to continue hosting larger events, the damage is widespread.
“We know that we’ve already lost a number of businesses,” Jefferson says. “You can see it just when you drive down to the streets and when you walk through some of the facilities, some of the downtown and also out into the other parts of the community you can see it.
“The tourism industry, not only here in Nova Scotia, but, as we know, across the country, across the world, it’s really been the industry that has been hit first. It’s the industry that’s probably been hit the hardest, and it’s the industry that’s expected to recover last.”
Despite the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Response Council and the government offering assistance to businesses affected by the pandemic and public health directives, it’s often only a temporary solution.
What many businesses need is a steady flow of customers and revenue — but even that might not be enough to survive.
“The sad reality is that there’s no question: we will lose more businesses,” Jefferson says. “But the fate of that is not completely written. We do have an opportunity — even as citizens — to contribute.”
Pandemic recovery by dining around
At the beginning of February, Discover Halifax started its annual Dine Around event — a celebration of Halifax’s diverse culinary scene.
Throughout February, diners can select a multi-course meal — ranging from $10 to $50 — from 33 participating restaurants around downtown Halifax.
Some of those meals include a $40 three-course dinner from 2 Doors Down with dishes such as a roasted squash gnocchi, a vegetarian tikka masala and a vanilla bean cheesecake.
There are also numerous options with various prices from the Halifax waterfront’s Pickford & Black including fresh oysters, all-dressed mac ‘n’ cheese and queso burgers.
This year, five hotels are also offering “dine and stay” packages which offer Nova Scotians overnight accommodations and an included meal.
Discover Halifax’s Dine Around event, which has been around since 2003, is an attempt to bring business to downtown restaurants in a month that’s usually difficult.
“We’ve got an opportunity to support those businesses. If there’s a business you particularly like, think about that,” Jefferson says. “That’s the challenge: think about supporting them — we’re almost there. The real crisis, or the real sad story, is the business that just about made it, and we are just about there.
“If we can just lean in as a community just a little bit more and put our shoulder in to help get there, it’s going to make sure that they’re there when we want them and everything starts to return.”